Daily Blog • June 12-13, 2010

The Close Loss Factor

In 2008, Alabama was only ranked #24 at the start of the year. They were just 7-6 in 2007, had just 12 returning starters and faced a schedule that had four brutal road games. They had to take on the preseason ACC Title favorite Clemson in Atlanta, take on the defending national champ LSU in Death Valley where they would be sky high for Saban's return, face the defending SEC East Champ Tennessee in Knoxville AND take on the 2008 preseason #1 team Georgia on the road. That does not sound like the recipe to vault into the Top 10 let alone become the #1 team in the country.

Alabama amazingly went 12-0 and was ranked #1 in the country at the end of the regular season. They had two MAIN factors in their favor that year. Both their offensive and defensive lines made my Top Units List in the front of the magazine and if you are strong along the line of scrimmage you can control many games. Another factor was that they were much better than a 7-6 team in 2007 as all 6 of their losses in ‘07 were by 7 or less points so they were just a handful of plays away from being 13-0. I do a Best Case/Worst Case scenario for each team in the regional magazines, which takes all of the close wins or losses from the previous year and reverses them to see how close a team was to a much stronger or much weaker season.

So which teams for 2009 had 3 or more losses in ‘08 but ALL of them were close losses? There were TWO teams that fell into that category and they were Iowa and Ole Miss. Both teams lost 4 games in ‘08 with Ole Miss losing by 2, 6, 7 and 4 and Iowa losing by 1, 5, 3 and 3. While Ole Miss (#8 Preseason) did not fly under the radar like Alabama in ’08, Iowa was a team that came out of nowhere and started the season 9-0 and ranked #7! Had QB Ricky Stanzi not been injured in the Northwestern game and sat out the next three, Iowa could have finished unbeaten!!

This year there are three teams that suffered three or more losses last year with none of them by more than seven. They are Notre Dame (6), Connecticut (5) and Pittsburgh (3). Alabama really pushed the envelope in 2008 with 6 close losses, so can new HC Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish do the same in 2010? They do have a favorable schedule with only three true road games and Kelly is the first coach in the history of my magazine to have his team finisher higher than I projected in six straight years (incl 3 conf titles). My main set of power ratings calls for an 11-1 season (avg is 9 wins) and I have them ranked #16.  If Kelly exceeds my projection again this year, the Irish could be the team with no losses the previous year by more than 7 that could surprise.

Connecticut lost five games last year by 4 points or less! This year they return 16 starters and this could be Edsall’s best team yet. While I have them as an underdog in three games this year none of them are by more than a TD. I also have them as a pick-em in three other games. While I pick the Huskies to finish #5 in the Big East this year my nine sets of power ratings have them going anywhere from 6-6 to 12-0 (yes, I said 12-0!) and they could be a big time surprise this year.

Finally Pittsburgh lost three games last year by 7, 3 and 1 point. They go from facing the 51st toughest schedule last year to the 28th toughest this year. With only 11 returning starters and road games at Utah, Notre Dame, Connecticut, USF and Cincinnati along with home games against Miami, Fl and West Virginia it will be very tough for the Panthers to run the table. However, I do not have them as an underdog in any game by more than a TD and I do pick them to win the Big East this year so don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh is this year’s Alabama or Iowa.

Yesterday we opened the polls on the homepage for you, the fans to vote on each and every conference matchup for six conferences. Last year you guys were more accurate than any other college preview publication and this is a great way for me to gauge how the public views each game. When you vote you have the entire conference schedule in front of you and the home team is capitalized. Get your votes in today and see how the fans think the big games like Oklahoma-Texas, Ohio St at Iowa, Florida St at Miami, Fl and West Virginia at Pittsburgh are going to shake out! To vote you do have to register your e-mail address but this is just to make sure there is no stuffing of the ballot box.

Also please check PhilSteele.com everyday to get my Top 30 Countdown, which posted #6 Boise St yesterday. Through June 16th, I will post both magazine pages on a new team ranked in the Top 30 and you can get an early look at my breakdown of your favorite team. Remember those magazine pages are available for only 24 hours for you to download. Today, Nebraska comes in at #5.

I will be back on Monday. Have a great weekend!!!